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Display building 101.

Do you have one or two people on your staff (this may be you) who is especially adept at in-store merchandising? These would be individuals who can take several boxes of product and construct an appealing, eye-catching, often clever display that draws customers' attention and entices them to investigate and buy the product being promoted.

At Zingerman's, we've been lucky enough to have many of these people through the years. But by no means all--or even most--of our dell staff come to us with an intuitive sense of how to build a great display. And since display building--and rebuilding--is pretty much an ongoing requirement of retail, we have developed some basic training on display building that we provide to all retail staff.

Display Basics

Why bother teaching everyone to build displays when there are several people who already do it really well? What we've learned the hard way (although it is incredibly obvious in hindsight) is that no one person--or even a team of specialists --can be 100-percent responsible for the in-store merchandising.

They simply can't be there every time customers deplete a display or a sign falls down and gets lost or new product is delivered and needs to be shelved. And if staff are waiting for the "display queen" to arrive before displays are rebuilt, then your store spends too much of its time in a state of merchandising disarray.

In fact, in a small, busy store like ours, we would simply run out of product on the floor in the middle of the day if we waited until after closing to restock.

Becky Winkler and Erica Perrault, ZingTrain's merchandising specialists, always begin their classes on display building with these questions, and I encourage you to build them into any training that you develop as well:

Q--What is the goal of every display?

A--To sell product!

Q--What do you have to do when a display is successful and a lot of product has been sold off of it?

A--Rebuild the display.

Q--What do you have to do when you have an unsuccessful display and the product isn't selling?

A--Rebuild the display.

Q--So if you want to sell more products, what will you always be doing?

A--Building and rebuilding displays.

These questions encourage staff to see building displays not as a project that once completed can be checked off the list but rather as a continuous duty on each shift. It also reduces the pressure to create the "perfect" display (which keeps people from trying to build any display) because every display--perfect or not--is just going to need to be rebuilt.

Pay Attention to Details

In the same way staff members should keep an eye out for customers and make sure their needs are met, they should also be keeping an eye on the displays and noting when they need attention. This doesn't mean that the staff should ignore customers in order to rebuild displays, but rebuilding displays should not be ignored when the store is open and only attended to after closing or before opening. In fact, in our experience, customers are drawn to the activity of display building and will often want to engage the display builder and ask him or her questions about the product. Far from being an annoyance, we see this as a great opportunity to sell. Since every display's goal is to sell product, what could be better than a display that is sold out before it's even been completely built?

As with most skills, building effective displays requires practice. The more you build, the better you become. The best display builders on your staff are probably unconsciously competent about how they build displays. They "simply do what looks right" and it works. But to train others, that information needs to be extracted from the expert's head and written down on paper. Below are the basics of what we teach in our staff display class. They may not be exactly right for your store but they can serve as a good jumping-off point for documenting your own display do's and don'ts.

Become a Display Detective

While walking around your store, notice the displays. Pay particular attention to those that you know are generating good sales. What characteristics of those displays make them more effective? These are the ones that you want to document as key elements of your display style.

Zingerman's Display Style

* Big. This is a relative term, of course, because we're working in pretty confined space (about 1,200 square feet of retail in the original dell building). But we want to use as much of that space as possible to display product. As in Manhattan, when there is no space to build out, stores build up. That said, it is important that customers can easily take product from the display. After all, we want them to buy from it, not just look at it.

* Abundant. An abundant display sends the message that the product is fresh and that it is popular. No one wants to feel he/ she is choosing from the leftovers.

* Repetitive. In order to generate sales, you need to attract the customers' attention. You can't effectively promote everything in every department at all times. Pick a few key products to promote. In your displays, repeat the same product as much as possible for maximum impact. You want to grab customers' attention from a distance and hold their eye. If you have room, building multiple displays with the same product throughout the store is very effective.

* Fun. Life is short. Food is fun. We always look for ways to build fun into our merchandising. Put Mr. Potato Head next to the potato salad.

* Clean and neat. This should go without saying but it's so important that we have to include it. People don't want to buy food--or any product from a dirty display.

* Signed. Signs sell. They never take breaks (although they do sometimes fall down), and they sell to shy customers who don't wish to interact with a salesperson. People want to know what they are buying and how much they're going to pay for it.

* Sampled. Despite preferring active sampling (a salesperson offering a taste and talking about the product) to passive sampling, we use both. Refreshing the samples continually is a key piece of maintaining a display. Baskets/plates for passive samples should always be signed with the product name, a key reason to buy and the price, even if the overall display is also signed. Customers need to be very clear about what they are sampling. A great display might also include information about the producer, the production method, how to use the product (recipes), etc.

Besides the above criteria, we have determined the prime locations in the store for displays and use the space accordingly. Don't make your staff speculate about where to build a display when you already know what works and what doesn't. If you're not sure where the best display locations are, try different spots and track the results. Then, stick with the winners.

Document the Do's and Don'ts of Your Display Style

Knowing the elements that make an effective display in your store--one that is consistent with your business' look and feel is important, but it's also important to share those things that you don't want to see in a display. For example, we teach that Zingerman's display style is not:

* Fancy, contrived or designed to make the product look exclusive. This approach is perfect for expensive jewelry but we don't believe it works for food. We want to send the message that the food we sell is accessible to everyone.

* Creating dioramas. The "one-of-each" approach that works for a display in the museum of natural history just confuses our customers. The well-intentioned staff person thinks, "I'll put out an example of each of our Greek products," but the resulting mishmash of sizes, shapes and products doesn't grab customers' attention and often confuses them. Plus, people don't want to "mess up" a display that looks like a work of art (which means they won't buy from it).

* Overly garnished. We think our food speaks for itself, and we don't want to hide it.

Once you've documented your display criteria, share them with your staff. Schedule a group walk-around of the store and evaluate existing displays, focusing on what works and what could be improved.

Take turns using a digital camera to photograph displays. You "see" differently when you look through the lens, and the camera can be a great training tool. Run a Best Display Contest (based on percentage sales increases). Recognize staff members who do a good job of maintaining displays throughout their shifts. Offer an exciting prize to anyone who sells out of a product before the display they're building has been completed.

Move product out of the storeroom and onto the floor. Sell more. Improve your bottom line. Have fun.

Maggie Bayless is the managing partner of ZingTrain, which is the consulting arm of Zingerman's, the specialty food retailer in Ann Arbor, Mich. If you have specific topics you would like to see addressed, send suggestions to
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Title Annotation:staff training and merchandising
Author:Bayless, Maggie
Publication:Gourmet Retailer
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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